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5 slayings in 4 days jolt Pr. George's

By Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 5, 2011; 10:26 AM

Five people have been slain in Prince George's County since New Year's Day, four of them Tuesday, as 2011 opened with an unusual spate of violence.

In the latest shooting, which occurred just before midnight Tuesday, one person was killed and three people were wounded in the Hillcrest Heights/Marlow Heights area, police said. That incident followed three other slayings earlier in the day, including two in which duct tape was placed over the victims' mouths.

Blood was still visible on the steps of the corner duplex at 27th Avenue and Norcross Street in Temple Hills Wednesday morning, a gruesome reminder to neighbors of the sudden outburst of violence there last night.

The home in a community of duplexes separated by chain link fences was well-known to residents as a possible drug hang out. Large groups of young men would frequently congregate on the front steps talking loudly and smoking marijuana into the night, residents said.

"Every neighborhood has their problem house, I believe, and this was just ours," said Virginia Foster, who was greeted by a horde of reporters as she went to collect her newspaper Wednesday morning. "You know, you have a lot of unemployment, and when you're unemployed, you're idle. An idle mind is the devil's workshop."

Lynn Dunigan, another neighbor, said he was awakened by what sounded like 7 or 8 gunshots Tuesday night and emerged from his house to find police and paramedics swarming the area. He said he was not surprised by the incident or by the recent spasm of violence in the county he calls home.

"I think it's just these days and time," he said.

A neighbor who asked to remain anonymous to protect her privacy said she first heard arguing on the corner, then heard a young man say, "Dude, you 'gon do this? You really 'gon do this?" The woman said that as she went to look out her window, she saw the muzzle flashes from a man pointing a handgun at what looked like a group of three people. That man, she said, took off running down 27th Avenue, pulling a hood up over his dreadlocks. He left one victim lying on the steps of the corner home, and another pounding on the door, holding his shoulder, she said.

"The gunshots sounded like it was in my room," the woman said. "The surviving person should be able to identify who did it, because we talking close range."

The five killings in so brief a period appeared to depart from a trend in the past two years in which the homicide rate was less than five in two weeks. Overall crime in the county also decreased sharply in those two years.

"This is a tough way to start 2011," said Maj. Andrew Ellis, the public affairs commander for the county police department. Ellis spoke before the fifth slaying late Tuesday.

Acting Police Chief Mark Magaw said that the "whole focus of this police department" is on solving the homicides and that he was working to strengthen relationships with federal agencies and home in on violent criminals.

"Do I think it's an omen for 2011?" Magaw said. "No, I don't, but our job is to make sure these crimes don't continue."

Through his spokesman, County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) declined to comment.

Barry Schlossberg, the community affairs chairman for the Brookwood-Holloway Civic Association, said the killings were a reminder "that there's still crime out there."

"As a community representative, certainly we would hope that this is not a portent of what's to come and that it is simply a blip," Schlossberg said.

There had been instances in which as many as four people had been killed previously in brief periods in Prince George's. In 2010, the county saw a double homicide Jan. 5, followed by two separate slayings Jan. 8. The county saw four separate killings July 31 - including one victim who died from an earlier shooting - and three on Aug. 22.

There were 98 killings in Prince George's last year, compared with 100 in 2009 and a sharp decrease from the mid-2000s. However, the sudden spike in killings was not unprecedented.

"We've had these spates of homicides before," Ellis said. "It doesn't send a larger message about the state of crime in the county."

The most recent shootings occurred at 11:43 p.m. Tuesday in the 4000 block of Norcross Street, said Cpl. Erica Johnson, a county police spokeswoman. One person was found dead at the scene, she said. Three other people were taken to hospitals. Their conditions could not be immediately learned.

The three earlier slayings Tuesday occurred in the same general area of the county, and two of them are believed to be connected. Police do not have any suspects or motive in any of them, but investigators believe them to be isolated incidents with targeted victims.

The first occurred just after 12:30 a.m. outside the Upscale Ballroom in the 3900 block of Bexley Place in the Suitland area. Cpl. Henry Tippett, a police spokesman, said officers called on a report of gunfire found a man shot inside a vehicle. Clifton Antion Turner, 42, of Laurel was pronounced dead at the scene.

Victor Jones, a manager at the Ballroom, said he did not see what happened. He was told that someone came out from bushes and shot a man. Jones said there was no obvious altercation inside the Ballroom beforehand, where a few hundred people had gathered to listen to live music.

Tuesday's other two killings are believed to be connected to each other but not to the first, Ellis said. He said those two slayings occurred within about three miles of each other and about the same time. In both cases, law enforcement sources said, duct tape was put over the victim's mouth.

Police were called to the first scene just after 2 a.m., when a woman found the victim in the 7200 block of Crafford Place in Oxon Hill, Tippett said. The man, whom authorities did not identify, was pronounced dead at the scene, Tippett said. Tippett and Ellis said investigators were awaiting autopsy results to determine the cause of death. A law enforcement source said the man's throat appeared to have been cut.

LaKysha Barnes, 34, who lives in the townhouse community on Crafford Place, said the area has been quiet in the four years she has lived there. She said there seemed to be lots of traffic in and out of the home where the man was found dead, but only on the weekends.

"It's kind of scary to wake up and see all that stuff going on in the morning," she said.

The other victim, a man whom police also did not identify, was not discovered until closer to 8 a.m., when passersby called to report a body on the shoulder of Palmer and Tucker roads in Oxon Hill, authorities said.

It "gives you chills" to think about killings so close to home, said Juanita Moore Akida, the director of a nearby community center who went to the scene.

The first killing of the year was Saturday, when a Chillum man was found stabbed in his home in the 5700 block of Cypress Creek Drive. There was no sign of forced entry, and police think the victim, Ansel Donovan Whitelocke, 58, knew his attacker, sources said.

"It's really early in the investigation," Ellis said. "Once we determine what the motive is, then we can certainly bring more resources to bear on the root of the problem."

Staff writers Martin Weil and Clarence Williams contributed to this report.

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